Inferno (1980)

Viewed January 16th

In this Dario Argento film, a musicologist travels from Rome to New York to save his sister from the supernatural forces brewing in her apartment building.

Within the Argento filmography, the "Three Mothers" films--Suspiria (1977), Inferno, and Mother of Tears (2007)--inhabit a unique place. They were inspired by Thomas de Quincey's opium-soaked 19th century prose poem Suspiria de Profundis. The poem posits the existence of the evil Three Sorrows who are the flip side of classical mythology's Three Fates. Argento's wife Daria Nicolodi was heavily involved in the conception and writing process of the the first two films in the cyle and their tone is more explicitly removed from the logic of reality than most Argento films or giallos, generally. 

Inferno, in particular, is a strange one. Unlike the classic Suspiria, Inferno's narrative structure and character development are so half-baked that the only reasonable way to engage with the film is to sink into it as a representation of a nightmare. For some, maybe most horror films, that wouldn't really be enough but if you can get into Inferno on the right, mildly druggy wavelength it can work. This is due to several things, perhaps most obviously the use of red, blue, and occasionally green colored lights. They lend the film an almost physical solidity, like a painting. The impression of it in your memory after watching it is very strong, unreal, primary, not unlike a nightmare. One thought I had was that it resembles certain color films produced by Argento's mentor, Mario Bava. And indeed, as I found out, Bava was highly involved in the production. In fact, when Argento fell ill, Bava ended up taking over even more control, particularly in the deeply surreal set pieces. And those set pieces, particularly the early one where the woman goes into the basement and dives into the pool of water to find the key, are archetypal and the closest the film comes to feeling thoroughly intentional. That goes beyond Bava. The feeling of a step-by-step psychological descent, using the haunted architecture as a metaphor for the damaged mind feels particularly tied into the sensibility that Nicolodi lends to Argento.

A final note: I'm not sure if research or analysis about this already exists (it very well might), but the relationship between music and visuality in Argento's work is very particular. Opera (particularly Verdi) is a continual touchstone and often characters are musicians (or in the case of Inferno, a musicologist) forced to open their eyes, so to speak, in order to become detectives and discern the visual clues. Something to think about...